I entered this world on 1 July 1942 at the height of the bloodiest war man had ever created. Perhaps I have selective memory, but to me my family was a perfect microcosm of the violent, bitching, and bleeding planet I was born into.
They tell me my dad was happy that warm summer day when he brought me home from the hospital. He even handed out cigars to the neighbors. But I don’t remember him ever smiling much about anything, nor being proud of much of anything I ever did.
My dad and I never had a normal relationship. I now regret that. I would liked to have heard his side of the story and known what happened in his life to make him like he was. Instead I find myself, these many years later, grieving for the father I never knew.
Dad was born around 1911 in Massillon, Ohio and lived his entire life within thirty miles of his home yet I know very little about him except what my mom told me as I was growing up. I know he had two brothers, that his semi crazy father was a violin playing mailman who used to run his route in a horse and buggy while drunk. I know he was called Jumbo Walters and that he ran in a street gang when young. I know he didn’t mind smacking my mom around when he felt like it and that was quite often. I know he was a pretty selfish dude who thought looking out for himself was far more important than looking out for his kids. I know he left our home after mom divorced him when I was in the third or fourth grade. I know I didn’t like him.
My mom was the one I always stuck up for, but she was certainly no angel because as far back as I can remember she always had a guy coming around when dad was at work. I gotta say though, that she worked hard and always took care of my physical needs. My mom was the one who I went to when I was hurting or in need and I hold no ill will towards her when it comes to going out on my father. Who knows what went on between those two? Whatever it was, it created a very dysfunctional family life for my sister and I.
Mom was the third kid in a six kid family. She was born in Genoa in Perry township and also, like my father, spent her entire life within thirty miles of her birth home. I knew mom’s side of the family quite well as she was always leaving dad and moving us kids back home to grandpa’s and grandma’s house to live.
The longest we’d stay though was only a few months, just long enough to get all messed up with school changes. Dad would then beg mom back to the projects where he would be nice to her for a while, but inevitably he would get mean and the whole nightmare would start up with the beatings again right where it left off. Maybe he couldn’t take mom’s boyfriends, who knows? But as he never hit me much, the way he treated mom was why I hated him so. The day he finally left for good was a very happy one for all of us.
My sister? In one sense, in my opinion, she is a worthless thief who connived and stole mom’s house and money out from under her while she was laying in a nursing home suffering from a stroke and dying. In another sense she is merely the product of a dysfunctional family just like I am. In a way I feel for her, but I realize also the best I can do is to stay away and allow her life to play itself out to her own satisfaction without adding to her drama.
Overall, in my family there was my dad, my mom and my sister in one room, and I in another. Not much connection was there for me save for the necessity of food, clothing, and a place to sleep.
As a kid I was quiet, withdrawn, and mostly an observer not particularly liking what I saw. For all intent and purposes I feel I could have been raised by wolves. I like to say that when I was grown high enough to reach the door knob I was out and gone, escaping into the magical kingdom of the projects cause that’s pretty much what I did.
One story I remember when I was quite small was the day I asked mom if she’d take me and some friends over the hills behind the projects to Frogs Pond so we could do some frog hunting. The pond had been dug in the middle of a working strip mine and was a long way for little kids to walk so mom decided to steal my dads fancy new car while he was sleeping. She was a really ballsy woman cause she didn’t have a drivers license, nor could she even drive. She piled us all into the back seat, backed out of the parking space throwing gravel, and away we went.
Dad’s car had a clutch so when she left it out too fast it stalled the car or jerked it all over the road. Jerk . . . jerk . . . stall. Start . . . jerk . . . jerk . . . stall, all the way to Frogs Pond. Us kids, even mom, were scared and laughing like hell all the way. It was a great trip!
Once we got there though, mom ran into a big rock and got the car stuck in some mud so bad we had to walk home. What she told dad I don’t remember, but he obviously had a complete freak out. I don’t remember any beatings though, but I’m sure there was one.
That’s the one thing I truly loved about my mom, her spunkyness. She was a really fun loving, crazy lady, and good looking to boot. No wonder the guys went for her. My dad may have beaten her, but nothing could dampen her spirit. Her whole life she lived like a wild horse amongst a corral full of nags. My mom, the perpetual party girl. I miss her and forgive her for turning on me because of dementia in her old age.
One story mom told me about my dad was that when they lived with my grandpa and grandma he’d buy a tub of ice cream and not wanting to share it he would send my mom upstairs to their room where she would lower a rope through the window. Once it reached the ground he would tie the rope to the ice cream and have her raise the tub back to the second story room so he and mom could eat it all themselves. Nice.
Another story I remember was one night he was beating my mom when I was about four. I crawled up onto the arm of the couch so I could reach him and when he came over I punched him dead in the nose hard enough to make it bleed. I was always proud of that, even if I did start crying after he hit me in the stomach and knocked me off it. Another time I chased him off mom after threatening to bean him on the head with a cast iron frying pan. There were more, but that’s plenty enough of that.
Another story I remember was when I was older he bought his first car. He was triple proud of that car and was always shining it up. One evening he took us all to the drive-in theater. It was one of the rare times I ever even rode in the thing. He bought my sister and I some popcorn before the movie started, but I messed up and spilled some of it in the back seat. That was the last time I ever got to go to the outdoor movie in his fancy car.
Anther story was when I was a little kid sometimes dad had to babysit me when my mom was working. He’d get all slicked up and drive down town to skid row and park along the street so he could go to his bookie joint or somewhere and leave me in the car alone for what seemed to be a very long time.
The street in front of where he always parked was full of wino’s sitting along the curb drinking and looking ugly. I would get so scared I would hunker down on the back seat floor to hide from them. When he returned he just laughed at me and called me a sissy.
Another story mom told me was that one night when he had a sick chicken he took it to bed with him to keep it warm. It may have been one he stole from the guy next door cause he was known to do that sometimes. Anyways, this is a side of him I never knew and find intriguing.
Another story. In the times we lived at grandpa’s house Sundays were always special. All my aunts, uncles, and cousins would come there to visit, eat, and play cards around the kitchen table. I had a lot of cousins and it was always fun being around grandpa who smiled a lot and was pretty laid back. He was really a pretty cool guy. Grandma was a bit of a grouch though, seems all the Reed women were a bit grouchy.
Story . . . Things weren’t always bad between my sister and me. I do remember some good times that took place when we were both quite young. She is 8 years older than me so I was probably 4 or 5 when this all happened.
Donna and I used to sleep together in the same bed because of the lack of space in our project apartment. At night before we went to sleep we would get out a flashlight, shine it on the wall and she would teach me how to make animal shadows by cupping my hands in different ways. A small thing perhaps, but I enjoyed it.
Another thing we did was dance together and make up these little routines to act out in front of mom. This was always great fun also.
Funny thing is that I have very little memory of Donna after she left the room for good. I know she did once she got too old to sleep with me any longer and I think maybe she lived somewhere else, maybe with an Aunt, cause there was only one other bedroom and my mom and dad had it.
I remember she got caught stealing from the neighbor once when she was supposed to be babysitting their kid. She always had a lust for money and stuff so she became a thief at an early age, I guess. Too bad.
One day after we grew up and married she told me that all her life she hated my guts because I took away her glory of being the only child. After that I sorta stayed away from her cause I don’t trust people who hate me. 🙂 Anyways throughout life we have been mostly distant at best, but there were moments when we tried to be friends, at least I did till I realized she was just setting me up for another con. Sucks. I wish I would have had a brother though, mom said I did, but he died shortly after he was born.